Patagonia visits College

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October 28, 2011

12:37 AM

Tetsuya O’Hara, Director of Advanced Research and Development at Patagonia, visited the Mason School of Business Wednesday, chronicling his rise to prominence and explaining the factors behind Patagonia’s recent success.

The event, which was co-sponsored by the Luxury and Retail club and Net Impact, a business sustainability club at Mason, was scheduled in order to provide a perspective on the growing trend of sustainability in business. Patagonia, an outdoor clothing company based in Ventura, Calif., has been recognized as one of the top environmentally-conscious companies, and founder Yvon Chouinard is considered by some to be a sustainability visionary.

“It was a whole new way to look at engagement, and it appealed to a huge crowd of people,” Student Assembly President and Net Impact Creative Director Kaveh Sadeghian ’12 said. “Students from every background were there. It was a testimony to how inclusive and progressive this is.”

Luxury and Retail Club president Edmund Amoye MBA ’12 met O’Hara at an event at Harvard, maintained the friendship and encouraged O’Hara to visit the College. Net Impact worked closely with the Luxury and Retail Club to get the word out to the student body.

“I wanted people to take a look at a company that doesn’t want to grow big but really wants to take a look at the environment,” Amoye said. “The way they market their product makes it seem like a luxury product, [and] I thought there was a lot to be taken away from him coming here to talk.”

O’Hara began by discussing his childhood in Japan, and how the simplicity and functionality of Japanese culture continues to influence him. After years of success at Teijin Limited in Japan, O’Hara was recruited by Dimension Polyant Sailcloth, a sports materials manager in Putnam, Conn. In 2003, he was recruited by Patagonia and rose through the ranks to his current position.

“He talked about the culture of Patagonia, how, for example, the company is 100 percent owned by its founder,” Amoye said. “There is a strong connection to sticking to the mission of the company.”

O’Hara also detailed Patagonia’s revolutionary business practices, and outlined the company’s five green principles, the main theme of which is that companies must do their part to help protect the environment.

“From a business perspective, everything he was saying was counterintuitive…his company doesn’t want to grow more than 5 or 7 percent a year, they believe they can’t mitigate the negative environmental effects of selling too much product if they grow more than that,” Amoye said.

O’Hara praised Chouinard’s business model and believes the company succeeds with its unconventional business plan because of the latter’s charisma. O’Hara said Patagonia’s efforts at being green were earnest.
“When I am out of this [business] world, I don’t have to wear a suit or have a contingency plan, I just wear a t-shirt and shorts and travel for two months. It makes sense there,” Sadeghian ’12 said. “What is so amazing about Patagonia is that they have managed to take that spirit and translate it into the business world.”

Patagonia has an unorthodox upcoming advertising campaign to encourage its customers not to buy its products in an effort to preserve the environment. One ad appearing in The New York Times will feature a Patagonia jacket under the words, “Do Not Buy This Jacket.”

“They try to convince customers to consume responsibly. One way of doing that is telling their costumers not to buy their products,” Amoye said. “From the perspective of our club, that, in essence, puts the product in more demand. The costumer feels like you are telling them they are not good enough for the product because you are telling them they can’t have it so they want it more and more.”

Sadeghian said it was refreshing to see a successful business that has sustainable practices.

“They have created an incredible culture and perspective to business right now that is completely aligned to the millennial generation interest,” he said. “It is exactly what our generation is leaning toward.”

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